One Person, Two Journeys
Who is this person in the mirror? Who spent time pleasing. Who followed the rules.
Who sought approval, then risked all to play the fool.
Who rushed from one endeavor to another.
A prodigal who wasted time and gifts. Lost in a maze.
Awakened, finally, to reality,
To the nothingness inside.
Who is the prodigal? And who, the good? No line of demarcation.
Each of us is both. At the start, the good son, the winsome daughter.
Untested. Pliable. Guileless. Satisfied.
Life unfolds. The prodigal emerges.
Smart, stubborn, proud...I set out.
Will I be transformed by the journey?
*Based on writings from my friend, Eileen Sauer
The story begins with a conversation. I was huddled in my corporate cubicle when her head appeared (just barely) above the fabric-covered barricade.
“You’re one of us,” she said. I remember her impish smile. From this opening statement, we were off and running. We are the odd couple of girlfriends. I am tall. She is petite. I am a southern woman from Dublin, Georgia who graduated from the University of Georgia. She, of Asian descent, grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Notre Dame. While I am an audience, she could have easily been a concert pianist, such is her talent. I, however, maintain steadfastly that I am more Zen-ish.
Our conversations have been wide-ranging, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Substantive and fun. Between us, trust. We are both seekers. We question, rock our respective boats. We care deeply for each other. We, as Anne Morrow LIndbergh wrote, “stretch to understand (each other) and are invigorated by the stretching.”
Back to the cubicle. Out of that conversation my friend shared the following piece she had written several years earlier:
"Whether we like it or not, we are creatures who learn through experience, who grow through the experiences and mistakes we make, who develop compassion through our hardships. If we do not willingly put our necks on the chopping block, risk being the fool, the prodigal who wastes his effort as he flits from one endeavor to another only to run into one dead end after another, we risk not awakening to what is real inside. Until we have hit rock bottom, until we have learned that there is nowhere else to run [or hide] - for we cannot run [or hide] from ourselves; until we have learned that there truly is no 'grass is greener on the other side,' then and only then can we begin to move in the only direction available to us - up.
"If you view the prodigal son as the prodigal son and the good and faithful son as the good and faithful son, the parable makes no sense. But what if you view the good and faithful son as what we all are when we start off: untried, soft, comfortable, naive? And the prodigal son is what we are with our efforts and energies which, like money, are a source of currency that we exchange for experiences, knowledge, growth, awareness, and compassion?”
The story of grace. This version, though, has a bit of a twist. The prodigal returns home and is welcomed by his father. The good son, miffed because he feels he is taken for granted, walks away . . . to begin HIS prodigal journey. The story ends as the father and prodigal watch the good son leave, knowing they will be there to welcome him when he returns, humbled and teachable.
Eileen, you get it. We ALL start out as the Good Son and, in our journey, discover within us our human nature. If we are willing to surrender pride, we discover grace, freely given.
So, a man walks into a bar.
“What’ll you have?” the bartender asks.
“Nothing. Uh, I don’t drink.” The young man felt uncomfortable in the surroundings. But the sign in the window said “Closing early tonight for private party. Temporary help needed. Apply inside.” He needed a job. His car was out of fuel and so was he. He had taken a deep breath before entering. Over the years, he had driven by this bar many times, noting the patrons with disdain as he passed.
“Well, son, if you don’t drink, maybe you need to head down the street to the diner.”
“I’m here about the job, sir. Guess it’s too late. I ran out of gas at the county line.”
“That’s over twenty miles. You walked here?”
“Yes,sir. As I said, I need work. Anybody else hiring around here?”
“Not so fast. Never said I wasn’t.”
“But the sign says you’re closing early.”
“Son, you sure do know how to talk yourself out of a job.” He chuckled and extended his hand. “Name’s Sam.”
The two shook hands and the young man said, “I’m Pete.”
“Well, Pete, you know anything about setting up for parties?”
“Yes, sir, I do.” He had been in charge of the business dinners and parties his dad had given.
“After we close, we have a private party in the back room. Two of my waiters are sick. You’re hired.”
With that, Pete headed toward the back. A small boy who lay on a blanket in the corner of the room waved and smiled. “What’s a kid doing in a place like this?” he wondered out loud.
From behind, a woman’s soft voice responded. “I’m Anna. That’s my son, Tim. He was hit by a car last year and can’t walk. Sam let’s me bring him here. I clean and help out with extra bits.”
Pete recalled seeing a woman walking through the door several months earlier, carrying a child. At the time, he was appalled and recounted the story of a delinquent mother to several friends. Now he felt only shame.
He spoke to Tim, then Anna gave him a quick rundown. They joined the others who were moving tables and chairs. At the end of the evening, Sam walked in with several envelopes and the workers queued up.
“Thank you, Sam.” Anna’s voice shook slightly as she peered inside at her pay. “This is generous.” Sam winked and said, “Get that boy one of those new-fangled games. And buy yourself a new blouse. I’m getting tired of this one.” He laughed heartily at his own joke. When Anna smiled at him, he wiped his eyes with the back of his hands and muttered, “I think I’m allergic to those fancy flowers.”
Pete was next. At least he would have enough to eat tomorrow. He reached out and took the envelope. What he saw inside surprised him. “Sam, I think you gave me the wrong one.”
“Let me see.” Sam took the envelope, looked at it, and said, “Nope. Says ‘Pete’ plain as day on the front.”
“But I only worked for a few hours. This looks like a full day’s wages.”
“Son, this is yours.” The older man looked deeply into Pete’s eyes and said nothing else.
Pete thanked him and walked outside. Overhead a full moon lit the street. Six long, frustrating months had passed since he had last driven down this street. An angry, proud exit. Tonight, he turned to his right and stared into the distance. Tonight no anger remained, his pride long beaten into submission. Just two more miles. He could get the car tomorrow. Tonight he was walking home. To his dad and brother.
The ego believes it can survive all things. But it can’t. Grace for the journey. Grace from the journey. Count it all joy.